Silent killers: Why Bayern might steal the show in Champions League
All eyes were on Stamford Bridge for Champions League night, and understandably so. The big game of the round-of-16 stage was taking place in London as Chelsea took on Barcelona as the two giants added another chapter to their storied, albeit controversial, rivalry. The aficionados of European football were not left disappointed either as a resurgent Chelsea backed by a brilliant one-man show from Willian nearly upset the Barca apple-cart.
However, an error at the back let loose Andres Iniesta and the maestro squared for Lionel Messi, to break the duck against the Blues and level things up on the night for the Catalans. Cometh the hour, cometh the man, as they say.
Last week, the hype surrounded another big-ticket fixture as Real Madrid rode on their own talisman Cristiano Ronaldo to humble the high-flying Paris St. Germain. To be honest, none of these ties are over yet and everything hinges on the second leg as punters and experts alike hedge their bets on who will progress to the quarter finals.
The limelight has squarely been on these teams as the tournament progresses towards the business end. PSG and defending champions Real Madrid are still touted as favorites and whoever progresses from that tie may legitimately consider their chances of lifting the trophy bright. Barcelona have been excellent in the Spanish league and if they get past Chelsea then they might prove unstoppable considering the big-game experience of their stars.
Manchester City is another team fancied to go all the way this year, finally, some fans would say. Their decimation of Basel last week added credence to the belief that this could be their year.They have all but secured the Premier Leaguetitle and can rest players to prep for the big European nights which will be a bonus as the games get tougher.
Juventus is an old European powerhouse and have an uncanny ability to reach the summit clash as proven by recent form and some experts tout them as unlikely, but probable winners, provided they get out of the hole they have dug for themselves against Tottenham.
Another old powerhouse has, however, been surprisingly out of the limelight. Suits their style, one would think. Bayern Munich had been written off early in the season after a capitulation in Paris. There were hints of domestic woes as well for the Bavarian giants and unhappiness among senior players at the style of functioning of coach Carlo Ancelotti.
It appeared that the German giants were about to implode. How things have changed since then. Veteran manager Jupp Heynckes returned to steady the ship and it seemed a different team was taking the field once Heynckes took charge.
Bayern were typically ruthless at the Allianz Arena as the limelight graced Stamford Bridge. Their opponents were Besiktas, impressive and dogged in equal measure in the group stages and expected to give Bayern a decent run for their money.
What took place was completely different. Bayern thrashed their Turkish rivals 5-0 and notched up an astounding 14th straight victory in all competitions in the process. This, despite key players like Arjen Robben and Thiago being benched. (A potential flash-point that needs to be addressed.)
Granted, Besiktas were reduced to 10 men after Domagoj Vida saw red early, but even the 11 men from Turkey really struggled to contain the attacking prowess of the men in red as the Arena seemed to reacquire its fortress-like stature so reminiscent of old European nights.
So, what has started working for Bayern? For one, Heynckes really knows how to get the best out of this group of players and how things work at Bayern. Most importantly, the core group of players like Thomas Muller, Robert Lewandowski, Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery hasn't changed, giving the team a much-needed continuum lacking in many of their rivals
Add to that the welcome arrival of James Rodriguez (who was excellent) and the creative versatility of youngsters like Kingsley Coman and you have a formidable force. Bayern is like a well-oiled machine at their best and under Heynckes they are peaking again at the right time. One other thing, they have almost secured the Bundesliga crown as well which will help them focus all their energy in Europe as well.
In many ways they look more settled than many of their Champions League rivals and for once the limelight is not on them. Clearly, Bayern might prove to be the team to beat in the Champions League yet again.